TAKE FIVE: Five thoughts on the Pirates at the trade deadline
1 — Plain and simple, the Pirates failed. They failed to make a trade when it mattered most, and failed their players and their fans in the process.
The Pirates didn't need a trade deadline to make a deal to stay in playoff contention, given owner Bottom-Line Bob Nutting never had any intention of giving them a chance to contend for the playoffs.
That became clear after July 22, nine days before the MLB trade deadline, when the Pirates beat the Colorado Rockies, 13-5, for their sixth consecutive win and 12th in 14 games. It put the Pirates above .500 for the first time since April 9 and within two games of the first-place Brewers.
But the Pirates lost Gregory Polanco in the fourth inning to a hamstring strain that sent him to the 10-day disabled list, then lost six of their next seven games to fall to 51-54 (.486) and 5 1⁄2 games behind the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs traded for starting pitcher Jose Quintana on July 13, then won six consecutive and 13 of 16 to surge into first place.
The Pirates answered by doing nothing.
General manager Neal Huntington's spin was that the Pirates stood pat because they had a top-five record against winning teams but also one of the five worst records against teams with losing records.
Maybe that's because they needed help at third base, left field and on the pitching staff, and the front office provided none.
2 — The Pirates were 6-9 when Starling Marte received an 80-game suspension for steroid use.
Accuscore estimated they were on pace to finish 78-84, with a 10.4 percent probability to make the postseason. Without Marte, the Pirates were projected to go 74-88, with a 95.4 percent probability to miss the playoffs.
Instead, the Pirates went 39-41 without Marte, including a 31-26 record between May 13 and his July 18 return that was among the best in baseball.
That they also were without third baseman Jung Ho Kang, stranded in South Korea with visa issues after a DUI conviction, gave the Pirates hope that some additions could help their chances of contending.
3 — Meantime, the Pirates saved about $4.3 million in salary from the absences of Kang and Marte.
They never re-invested that money, relying instead on rookie call-ups and utility players to fill the holes at third base and left field.
That's money the Pirates could have spent when their starters were struggling, when the bullpen was blowing up or when Polanco went down at the most critical point of the season.
Instead, the Pirates stood pat. At this pace, they are projected to win 79 games.
4 — The Pirates did make a pair of ho-hum trades at the deadline, but neither will improve the team this season.
They dealt reliever Tony Watson to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a pair of Class A prospects, and traded pitching prospect Seth McGarry to the Phillies for reliever Joaquin Benoit and cash considerations.
The 40-year-old Benoit (1-4, 4.07 ERA) is merely a bullpen replacement for Watson (5-3, 3.66). At least the Pirates got something in return for Watson, who had seven blown saves and whose contract expires after this season. The Pirates received the Dodgers' No. 21 prospect, 18-year-old infielder Oneil Cruz, and right-handed pitching prospect Angel German.
What's curious about Cruz is that he's projected to play shortstop or third base, the same positions as three of the Pirates' top six prospects. Third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes is No. 4 and shortstops Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman are Nos. 5 and 6, according to MiLB.com.
Why are the Pirates stockpiling players at those positions in the minor leagues when they were so reluctant to part with prospects for major-league help while within striking distance of first place?
Consider: To get starting pitcher Yu Darvish from the Rangers, the Dodgers traded their Nos. 4, 17 and 27 prospects. To get starter Sonny Gray from the A's, the Yankees also gave up three prospects.
The player who might have been the best fit for the Pirates? The Royals had won 10 of 11 when they added switch-hitting outfielder Melky Cabrera in a trade with the White Sox, surrendering a pair of minor-league pitching prospects. The White Sox even picked up half of Cabrera's $5.2 remaining salary.
5 — Some will see it as good news the Pirates didn't trade Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison or Gerrit Cole, but what's the point in keeping them if you don't provide help?
The Brewers and Cubs made deals prior to the trade deadline, with the Brewers adding pitchers Tyler Webb, Anthony Swarzak and Jeremy Jeffress and the Cubs adding Quintana, lefty reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila.
The Pirates promoted outfielder Jordan Luplow.
Their next 12 games are against teams with sub-.500 records, and they play a stretch of 28 consecutive games against NL Central opponents from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24. That remains a chance for the Pirates to compete for the division title.
Don't blame the Pirates players. Blame Bottom-Line Bob and No-Deal Neal for promising a championship-caliber team and failing to deliver any help.